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Revising a Classic

Michael Pink's Generous Peter Pan

May. 14, 2012
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A great deal happens both on and beneath the surface of Michael Pink's generous ballet Peter Pan, created for the Milwaukee Ballet in 2010 and revised earlier this year for the Colorado Ballet and again for Milwaukee.  With deepened interpretations by the original cast, Peter Pan can confidently stand with Pink's and Milwaukee Ballet's greatest achievements.

Pink's adaptation seems to link Pan, Mr. Darling/ Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile.  The Darling children and the Neverlanders (who are children, too) make the autocratic Captain Hook walk the plank so that father Darling might be restored to the affections of his family.  Pink deliberately downplays Hook's demise.  No doubt he'll rise again when dad gets too scary.  The battle ends with Pan in Hook's pirate hat, a shallow victory, while air raid sirens suggest what the adults are really up to in the world.   Lost Boys might be war orphans, and pirate ships fighter planes.

The clock, which indicates the presence of the lethal crocodile, Hook's nemesis, is first heard ticking from the mantel in the children's room.  “Eternal” youth, adulthood and the proximately of death may have special resonance for ballet dancers whose careers on stage usually end before they reach forty. Many in the present family of dancers has been maturing under Pink's guidance since 2003.  Peter Pan belongs to them.

The good news is that Milwaukee Public Television (MPTV) did a seven-camera shoot of the run and will create a broadcast version.  A video can't replicate the energy of a live performance, but it can bring us closer to the action.  We can repeatedly enjoy, for example, the brilliantly timed series of movements Marc Petrocci executes as Pan when he realizes that Wendy has seen him crying.  Or the way the shifts of eye and body angles between Raven Wales as a soulful Mrs. Darling on opening night (Rachel Malehorn alternates) and David Hovhannisyan as her conflicted husband suggest the strengths and troubles of the marriage.  Or the way Laura Treat as Nana the dog nuzzles Wendy's empty bed.  Or Wendy's first breathless moments of flight, as danced on opening night by Valerie Harmon (alternating with Susan Gartell); or later as the Neverland outsider, watching Courtney Kramer's sublimely stern Tiger Lily dance with Peter as his natural equal.  Wendy has seen her adored Pan attack her brothers John and Michael minutes after flying them to Neverland because he's forgotten who they are, and she senses he'll forget her, too.  But he'll remember Tiger Lily.

Video won't capture the experience of being one of the legion in the vast Uihlein Hall waving the glowing “fairy fixers” that each audience member was given on entering, with instructions to switch it on when Peter asks for help.  It might, however, show Petrocci gently pulling himself to the edge of the stage and ringing a tiny bell while the many lights in Tinkerbell's costume (a masterpiece by designer Judanna Lynn) flicker out.  Tink, of course, has snatched Hook's poison from Pan's hand and swallowed it to save his life.  Ballet is wordless, so we're not asked to “believe in fairies,” but to form a silent community with a dancer who has given hugely of himself in the course of the evening.  Pan's gratitude as seeing our little lights felt authentic.  It might have collapsed into a mushy lovefest, but for Luz San Miguel's Tinkerbell who lighted up and stuck her tongue out.

It was a joy to see San Miguel in top form after an injury last winter that kept her from the last two concerts.  She is amazing as Tinkerbell, executing lightening fast footwork and pirouettes with explosive charisma. Harmon is an impeccable dancer always, but her real achievement as Wendy was to create a fully credible girl at the edge of puberty.  Even sword fighting, she never betrayed this character.

Ryan Martin was adorable as the long-suffering pirate Smee. The scene in which he dares to argue with the tyrant Hook about which story “mother” Wendy ought to read to them is another of the ballet's many strokes of genius.Petr Zahradnicek and Nicole Teague played John and Michael sweetly in the style of music hall clowns.  The pirates were loutish boys forever harassing the more mature girls of Tiger Lily's Indian troupe, who were really just basically into their own thing.

The flying scenes had new, witty details.  Philip Feeney's original score still thrills.  The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra and the Milwaukee Children's Choir performed it to perfection under conductor Pasquale Laurino.   Rick Graham's set was even more beautiful than I'd remembered under David Grill's rich lighting.


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